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office of the ministry. No men are so completely useless and contemptible, as those ministers who have lost all appearance of religion, and become visibly conformed to the spirit and manners of the world. For, as our Savior says, "they are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men." Hence the dignity of their character, and the importance of their office, lay ministers of the gospel under solemn obligations to keep themselves unspotted from the world, and to preach the preaching which God bids them, whether their people will hear, or whether they will forbear.
I must observe once more,
4. If ministers suffer themselves to be carried down the stream of corruption, they become not only useless, but destructive to the people. Corrupt ministers are always corrupters. The whole tendency of their practice and preaching is, to corrupt and destroy the souls of their people. Though they have lost the power of doing good, yet they retain the power of doing evil. They can do more than other men, to pull down the kingdom of Christ, and build up the kingdom of satan. And as they are more capable, so they are more disposed, than other men, to stifle the spirit of religion, oppose the doctrines of the gospel, and strengthen the hearts and hands of the wicked. This is the character which God gives of the corrupt teachers in Israel. He says, "Shemaiah taught rebellion against the Lord." He says, the prophets of Samaria and Jerusalem "made Israel to err, strengthened the hands of evil doers, and caused profaneness to go forth into all the land." When the people have formed their ministers after their own hearts, and
made them rebellious like themselves, their ministers will then fit them fast for destruction. So God declares to Israel, by his faithful prophet Hosea: “There shall be like people, like priest: and I will punish them for their ways." And our Lord says, "if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch." Thus ministers will destroy both their own souls and the souls of their people, if they suffer themselves to be corrupted by them. And can there be a more solemn and awful consideration than this, to constrain them to abstain from all appearance of evil; to guard against all the dangers of their office; and to discharge all the important duties of it with fidelity and zeal! This is our indispensable and infinitely important duty.
Having illustrated the danger and duty of ministers, I now proceed to make a few reflections, which naturally grow out of the subject.
1. It is now a very dangerous day to ministers, in this young and flourishing republic. The people have fallen into a great and general declension. As they have increased, so they have sinned. They have lost their original piety and virtue, and become extremely loose both in practice and in principle. Every species of moral corruption has spread through every part of our nation, and seized all ranks and classes of men. Arminianism, universalism, and deism, have more or less infected all our towns and parishes; and led multitudes to renounce those duties and doctrines of religion, in which they were early educated by their pious parents and faithful ministers. This day of declension among the people, is a day of great danger to the preachers of the gospel. While iniquity abounds, and the love of many waxes cold, even the most faithful ministers of the gospel are in danger of falling into the degeneracy of the times. This is very evident from
what has been said; and still more evident from the conduct of those who sustain the sacred character. Many ministers have already begun to degenerate with a degenerate people. Some have lost that spirit of devotion, that strictness of life, and that purity of sentiment, which was once so conspicuous in the preachers of the gospel. And some have begun to yield to the corrupt humors and unreasonable desires of the people, in points of serious and weighty importance. Some
yield to the vicious; and neglect to condemn and reprove their fashionable vices. Some yield to the heterodox; and neglect to condemn and expose their corrupt sentiments. Some yield to moral sinners; and neglect to preach those doctrines of the gospel, which are so disagreeable to their carnal hearts. And some condescend even to dispense with the laws of Christ, and admit those to enjoy the ordinances of the gospel, who are visibly destitute of the scriptural qualifications. These are striking instances of ministers yielding to the corruptions of the times, contrary to the dictates of their minds. And such instances as these are very numerous, and to be found all over the land. How many ministers neither preach nor practice according to their own sentiments, through fear of offending, and through desire of pleasing, the people? This conduct weakens the hands of faithful ministers, and strengthens the hands of those who wish to corrupt them. The present prospect is, that those who are the light of the world, will lose their lustre; and those who are the salt of the earth, will lose their savor; and there will be like people, like priest. Trying times for ministers are probably coming. And let us all, who
think we stand, take heed lest we fall.
2. Ministers need, at this day, to be well qualified for their office. Though religion has decayed, yet
knowledge has increased. There are men of letters, or at least men of information, in every religious society. The people in general are much more capable now, then they were formerly, of judging of the talents and qualifications of ministers. And as they are more critical in discerning, so they are more severe in censuring, every ministerial defect or imperfection. The corruption of the times appears in nothing more visibly, than in the united opposition of the people to sacred things, and to sacred persons. They seem determined to bring down ministers, and make reprisals upon them, for their having so long possessed the public esteem and confidence. Those, therefore, who enter into the ministry, at such a day as this, need to be well qualified for their great and arduous work. If they assume the sacred office, without any consistent scheme of religious sentiments, or any considerable stock of theological knowledge, they will very probably injure the cause which they ought to defend and promote. For people have lost their former implicit faith in the opinions of ministers, and pay no respect to their bare assertions. They demand evidence for every thing which their teachers call upon them to believe and practice. And this renders it necessary for ministers to be mighty in the scriptures, and expert in reasoning upon divine subjects. They ought to be able to meet deists, universalists, and all gainsayers, upon their own ground, and expose the fallacy and weakness of their boasted arguments. There is reason to believe, that the late rapid increase of error and infidelity in this land, is partly owing to the ignorance of ministers, who have never formed any clear and consistent scheme of divinity in their own minds. They have suffered error and infidelity to take root in their own congregations, through a sense of their own in
sufficiency to maintain and defend the truth. And this has led infidels and others, to represent the clergy as a weak, ignorant, superstitious set of men. Hence it highly concerns the ministers of the gospel, at this day, to wipe off such aspersions from their order, by possessing and displaying that knowledge, which may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. It is presumption for any man, to undertake to preach the gospel, without being able to prove the inspiration of the scriptures, and to defend the important doctrines which the Bible contains. This is what people now justly expect; and if they are disappointed, it will injure both them and those who profess to be their religious instructors.
But prudence, as well as knowledge, is a necessary qualification for a minister. He needs this, to enable him to exhibit divine truth in the most profitable manner, and to escape those snares which the enemies of truth will always endeavor to lay for him. Our Lord was a prudent preacher. His prudence, however, did not consist in taking the safest methods to conceal disagrecable doctrines; but in delivering disagreeable doctrines at a proper time, and in proper expressions. How often did his enemies attempt to entangle him in his talk? And how often did he confound and silence them? There are many, at this day, who feel the same opposition to the ministers of the gospel, that the Jews felt towards Christ; and therefore they need to be wise and prudent, as he was, in order to avoid the same snares and dangers, which he. by his prudence, avoided. Accordingly he has expressly enjoined it upon them, "to be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."
But ministers of the gospel, at this day of declension, need large measures of grace, as well as of knowledge